Acumen's Goal: To Own the Southern Lifestyle Marketplace

by Marty Cook  on Monday, Mar. 10, 2014 12:00 am  

Lela Davidson (top), director of content for Acumen Brands and John Elliott (below), director of partnership marketing. Kiva Systems robots (right) bring merchandise for stocking at the Acumen Brands warehouse across from the company’s 200,000-SF headquarters.  (Photos by Beth Hall)

Flash sales was one of those new programs, along with “Marketplace,” a specialty shop within the Country Outfitter website for products from predominantly smaller and local suppliers, and a greater emphasis on partnership marketing.

Marketplace is an idea that hits close to James’ heart. James is a devoted supporter of local businesses, and Marketplace’s emphasis on local suppliers — Davidson estimated half of the suppliers are Arkansas companies — gives those businesses access to Acumen’s existing consumer base. “The Country Outfitter Marketplace [is] designed to give hundreds, then thousands of mom-and-pop brands the ability to showcase their wares to Acumen Brands’ 10 million customers,” James said.

Acumen was James’ creation with partner Terry Turpin. The pair figured out what merchandise online shoppers were looking for but couldn’t find, and then they devised a way to fill that void.

James, formerly a practicing doctor, started with selling medical uniforms but hit pay dirt with Country Outfitter. The company used the breadth of social media and software expertise that directed users of certain search terms to its website. The idea “was to find what they wanted but couldn’t find [online] but also had low-dollar value on search terms,” said John Elliott, Acumen’s director of partnership marketing. “Acumen was very data-centric. We’ve got so much information about the people who buy our products, the people who like us on Facebook.”

All those customers and the data showing what they like have made Acumen an increasingly attractive partner. Davidson and Elliott said Acumen has partnered with Sony Music to promote a lost album recorded by Johnny Cash.

If 7 million people like Country Outfitter's boots and western apparel, then it stands to reason it is a much-desired starting point for a country music icon’s CD. Couplings like these are why Acumen brought Elliott on board a few weeks ago.

“We’ve been growing exponentially over the last two, three years, especially with Country Outfitter,” Elliott said. “We’ve amassed this highly engaged, highly involved group of customers. Now we’re saying, ‘Great, how do we leverage this asset base that we’ve built?’”

The answer: “Reach out to different brands to give them access.”

Acumen had to change in order to continue its growth because it couldn’t sustain its monopoly on the innovative way it used search engines and social media to attract and collect consumers.

“Country Outfitter blew up, and it kind of exploded the model,” Elliott said. “The way we grew Country Outfitter, we can no longer grow it.”

The company uses a characteristic high-tech way to make sure those 7,500 shipments get out in an orderly fashion. The expansive warehouse across the street from headquarters has more than 1,000 pods — upright self-standing stack of shelves — that contain most of the company’s merchandise.

To retrieve the pods, Acumen has 29 robots that use a system of markers on the floor to navigate the warehouse, pick up the pod and return it to the order station. Once there, a red beam shines on the specific shelf that contains the ordered product.



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